(In what laughingly attempts to pass as order of merit)
1. The Dead Girl: A minimum of fanfare greeted this perfectly-cast, deftly written, passionately subdued collection of fables about Missing White Women. That’s a shame, because beneath all the meticulous grime and alt-country angst lies a lasting, poignant set of vignettes about loss, grief, the ugly side of love, and why it might all be worth it.
2. 28 Weeks Later: Purists went in with dismissive scoffs nigh-itching in their throats: Boyle’s no-zombies genre-buster, given a sequel? With Americans?? Where the picture trumps its illustrious peer, though, is in skipping past the wanton destruction and fleshy contagion-angst and being a whole movie of human weakness arsing the whole thing up – which is where every zombie pic since Living Dead has wound up anyway. As such, it succeeds in areas the socio-political nightmare its genre stablemates only ever manage to pay groaning, jaw-torn-off lip-service to.
3. The Brave One: Vigilante dramas will always seem timely, urgent, ready to be lauded as “ripped-from-the-headlines”©. So let’s skip any of the musings about setting a revenge drama in contemporary New York and cut to the good stuff: This is not a particularly well-written story, and it’s only clever on paper inasmuch as it’s Death Wish with boobies. However. As a knowing work of genre, lent gravitas by Foster and made sublime by Jordan, it’s an ingenious condemnation of everything for which it seems to stand. You’ve heard the songs before – but just wait till these guys play ‘em.
4. Sunshine: Do sci-fi onscreen, don’t skimp on the ideas, make it as cinematic as it can be without losing the deep plot and character, and you’ll always have a hit, be it box-office gold or cult treasure. Easy, right? Sure, that’s why nobody’s got it this right since the original Matrix. Sunshine is beautiful, it’s scary (profoundly, not just in a boogedy-boo space-monster kind of way); and most exhilarating of all, the pic genuinely feels new and adventurous. How often can you say that?
5. Breach: Slotting between Casino Royale’s real-spies-are-cunts angst and The Bourne Ultimatum’s real-spies-are-tortured-Superman psychodrama, Breach posits that real spies, real turncoats and double-agents and world-weary fighters for good, are basically office drones for whom the KPIs just happen to involve the safety of the free world. Off the back of the superb Shattered Glass, director Billy Ray crafts another story where truth is given its due weight, once again centred around a nominal villain who, by pic’s end, you can’t help wishing could come out ok.
6. Black Snake Moan: You could sit through a million pitch meetings and never arrive at a notion like this one. Reeling you in with sexy Southern Gothic weirdness, the pic’s beating heart is one of compassion, grace, victory through endurance. Oh, and check it out – turns out Sam Jackson can still act. Like a motherfucker.
7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: A title so good that Brad Pitt’s contract forbade its alteration, you can almost read the whole movie in its rhythm: Starting out violent and brash, the picture crafts legendry around Pitt’s well-turned down-home realness, becoming increasingly melancholy as James’ destiny becomes manifest. Affleck’s bravery is in realising that his best features are brought out under Pitt’s shadow, so that when James exits the stage, Ford becomes a haunted wanderer, cinema’s most tragic coulda-been since Rupert Pupkin.
8. Zodiac: True to career form, David Fincher follows up a mediocre exercise in stylistic wankery (Panic Room) with another movie that redefines our expectations of what to expect from him – and from cinema. If the brilliant Se7en’s main legacy is a sad succession of grimy exploitation pics claiming a basis in fact, what better way to put the whole tired genre in an unmarked grave?
9. Hot Fuzz: Ladcore mischief-makers Pegg, Frost and Wright’s pastiche of the big-dick-cop action genre isn’t as pitch-perfect as Shaun of the Dead or Spaced – but then, maybe that’s why “cops” is such an under-tilled field next to “flatmates” and “zombies”. As the weakest of their works, that makes it merely the coolest police-procedural comedy since Beverly Hills Cop – punch that shit!
10. The Bourne Ultimatum: After the grim misfires of Supremacy, Greengrass and Damon regrouped to turn in the smartest tent-peg blockbuster of the year – which also happens to be the finest of 07’s considerable crop of trilogy-conclusion pics. Smartly plotted, sublimely cast, and presented with such panache you could almost forget that the script played like a Seagal movie…
[Parts of this article due to appear on Flicks]